KAMPALA – Police detectives attached to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) have smashed a suspected SIM fraud ring and arrested two suspects in the high-level operation.
The suspects that include Joshua Katamba and Agnes Kirabo have since been charged and remanded to Luzira Maximum Prison on charges of illegal registration of SIM cards, forgery among others.
Detectives say that Katamba, and others at large had set up an illegal mobile communications centre at Zaina textile centre, central division in Kampala.
Katamba for instance has been charged with 10 counts including altering national identification card numbers and refugee cards, making documents without authority, forgery among others while Kirabo faces disobedience of lawful orders contrary to section 117 of the penal code act.
The UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi in 2017 issued a directive stopping telecom companies, their staffs and individuals from vending SIM cards.
UCC prosecutor told the court on Thursday that both Katamba and Kirabo may face more charges, as the authorities are still completing investigations on the matter.
Kirabo is accused of helping the scammers to supply the forged SIM cards to criminals.
Both will next appear in court on November 1 and remain in remand after the denied the charged.
Mr. Abdul Salaam Waiswa, the head legal at UCC said the suspects were found with a number of assorted SIM cards from two telecommunications companies, voter registration lists, agent record books, 28 forged National IDs, one forged refugee card, fake passports among other items.
A massive stash of high-end phones, inverters, computers and other electrical appliances were also seized in illegally established service centre.
Mr. Waiswa also revealed that detectives are closing in on leads that may lead to the arrest of more suspects still at large into the SIM swap fraud since it was brought to light by Daily Monitor’s Amos Ngwomoya in an investigative story.
An expert who preferred not to be named said such criminal activities, and the operations targeting them, are taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing refuge crisis. The source said organised crime groups are investing more heavily in the production of fake documents to support a growing criminal market associated with that crisis.
Organised crime groups make frequent use of forged or altered documents such as Identity cards and Passports to traffic people for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
UCC early this year ordered telecom operators to immediately suspend SIM card registration with the use of refugee cards and attestation letters from Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), a move the regulator said the was aimed at beating SIM card registration fraud.
Mr. Waiswa said that UCC is formulating stringent procedure with the OPM on the validation process of refugee cards and attestation letters.
“The National IDs were examined by NIRA and indeed, many of them were forged while others had their NINs altered to look like authentic National IDs,” Mr. Waiswa said, adding that “we could charge him with more counts.”
He said that forgery is crime and that UCC is investigating telecom operators and their staffs after reports indicated that companies connive with scammers to lure unsuspected individuals.
This, points to the lucrative nature of the rampant SI M fraud that has seen Ugandans also lose cash through mobile banking applications and mobile money platforms.
The UCC recently issued guidelines warning Ugandans on how to avoid falling prey to the scammers.
Mr. Waiswa said that UCC is committed to working with others people, entities to put an end to the high level fraud, warning that the Commission will soon raid Nasser Rd after reports indicated that it is a hub of forgery.
How the scam works
Sim swap scams occur when a criminal is able to convince a mobile operator to issue them with a replacement Sim card, by claiming a false identity and pretending that their mobile phone has been either lost or stolen.
Criminals are able to do this using people’s personal details that have been stolen using malware or cyber-attacks. Many of these details are then sold on the dark web.
The victim’s Sim card stops working and the criminal can then access any online service that requires security codes to be sent to a user’s mobile phone.
Security researchers have long believed that Uganda crime gangs are behind these scams, as the fraudsters manage to trick banks by logging onto mobile banking systems from locations close to the victim’s home address.
In the past, this scam has been perpetrated by fraudsters calling the customer service call centres of mobile operators, as well as by hackers using fake mobile base station equipment bought from the black market.